Supervision during COVID-19

In the current context, and the necessity of working from home, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies has gathered suggestions and guidance for supervisors as they work remotely with their students – continuing to mentor them, assisting them in the continuation of their research and scholarly activities, and helping ensure an environment that promotes the wellbeing of all. We acknowledge that each relationship and disciplinary field is different and may benefit from distinctive approaches.

We have made available a document outlining the issues relating to new international students in current context, with general information on immigration steps, as well as details on the impact of COVID-19 and relevant mitigation underway. We will continue to update this document as information becomes available. 

Previous Communication

July 10, 2021: Returning to Face to Face Research Activities with Grad Students & Postdocs

As UBC begins to open back up and we move towards fully in-person research activities, we thought it might be useful to share a few things to consider when interacting with your students and postdocs. Although there are feelings of relief and positive anticipation as we move back, this is also a time of uncertainty, and as at the beginning of the pandemic, this may come with some confusion and worry.
When asking your students and postdocs to return to campus, there will likely be a number of issues to address as the situation continues to evolve.  While it is appropriate to articulate the importance of returning in person to research settings, a key guiding principle is to consider your students’ and postdocs’ physical and mental health, safety, and sense of wellbeing (see UBC Campus Return Planning Guide).
First and foremost, we recommend open communication, including a sincere attempt to understand each others’ concerns and needs. Agreed-upon expectations between you and your graduate students and postdocs is the goal, taking into account the power differential in mentor/mentee relationships (see Principles of Graduate Supervision). As with all interactions, we encourage respect, kindness, and a consideration of individual circumstances for all parties. It is understood that not all research labs, environments, or relationships may proceed identically through this transitional time.

Some issues to consider:

  1. Students’ and postdocs’, and your own sense of comfort, which may differ from person to person, in fully returning to the in-person context. Ideally, all parties can come to a mutual understanding on issues such as the specifics of mask-wearing and distancing. As comfort levels and circumstances change, the arrangements may change. For some students and postdocs, a more gradual return may be feasible and desirable. Consider scheduling regular individual check-ins to revisit ongoing comfort level with any decisions.
  2. Your own and your students’ and postdocs’ geographic locations, commuting requirements, any added responsibilities or factors (e.g. child care), or vacation schedules, that might impact a return to campus or availability for meetings.
  3. The continuity of research progress. If some aspects of research are still not possible, what other progress can be made? (see Supervision during Covid-19).

Over the next few months, we will experience another unprecedented time in our generation as we transition away the pandemic – not just back to ‘normal’, but in many ways to new ways of working and being. We trust that all of us will have sufficient patience, wisdom, and generosity of spirit as we navigate these times together.

As always, our office is available for advice or support. Please contact Emily Pitcher (Associate Director, Student Academic Support,, Dr. Theresa Rogers (Associate Dean, Faculty and Program Development, or Hourik Khanlian (Sr. Manager, Postdoctoral Fellows Office, for any questions or requests related to supervision in this context.

June 5, 2020: Resources from webinar on "Supervision in the COVID-19 context"

On May 26, 2020, The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (UBCV) and the College of Graduate Studies (UBCO) co-hosted a webinar focusing on “Supervision in the COVID-19 context”.  Three areas were addressed: Revisiting Supervision Principles and Expectations; Reframing our Supervisory Approaches; and Pivoting and Pausing Research with Graduate Students. Access the webinar videos and related resources here

May 22, 2020: Overview of the University’s support of graduate students during the COVID-19 outbreak

All in the University community have been facing significant challenges in light of COVID-19 and the resulting public health measures that have been enacted. While disruptions have been felt by everyone, the graduate student population has experienced distinct strains, relating for many  to their year-long registration, their timelines for completion, their research, their family responsibilities, and the sources of financial support they rely on, among other factors. To help alleviate these challenges, the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and the University more broadly have instituted a number of measures, listed below. Further information is available at FAQ and the associated links.


  • extending graduate program milestone and completion deadlines
  • enabling flexibility in grading practices and leaves of absence
  • delaying the deadline for submission of final grades and completion of graduation requirements
  • expanding online professional development opportunities 
  • sharing advice and best practices with faculty on supervision and the consideration of alternative scholarly work in this context through resources and workshops


  • creating an enhanced emergency bursary system for graduate students
  • launching the President’s Academic Excellence Initiative award for PhD students four months earlier than planned - this is an ongoing award in recognition of the contributions of doctoral students to the research activities of the university, equivalent to 17% of tuition
  • establishing an emergency fund to mitigate salary/stipend shortfalls for graduate students and postdocs where funding from industry or foundations has been lost or interrupted
  • delaying the due date for tuition payment 


Importantly, the University has also been working with our counterparts across the country in advocating for student financial support from governments and granting agencies, including that especially relevant for graduate students.

As the situation continues to unfold and challenges persist, we will continue to explore other avenues for support. 

As noted in the dean’s recent address to graduate students, we believe that graduate education is more important than ever at this time. Our abilities to advance understanding, to approach all work with rigour, consideration, and creativity, and to make sense of and move forward the extraordinary challenges of our day will be imperative. We look forward to working with you to support graduate education in this disruptive time, and to find the best way forward together.

March 27, 2020: How supervisors can support graduate students in the COVID-19 context

Maintaining your working relationship in new ways

  • Ensure both you and your student understand the circumstances under which you’re working. Are there added responsibilities, such as childcare, or other factors that may influence the work environment, communication, or wellbeing of either of you?
  • Set up virtual collaborative spaces that accommodate everyone’s preferences as much as possible. UBC IT recommends Zoom as a very versatile and 'safe' platform for most interactions – videoconferencing, chat rooms, instant messaging, etc. As with face-to-face meetings, it is best practice to follow up these virtual meetings by email regarding plans, decisions, etc. Open source alternatives like Jitsi might work as well.
  • Try to maintain the forms of interactions you had before working from home (e.g., one-on-one and group discussions, regular reports). This can be helpful not only for ongoing productivity but for morale and a sense of continuity. At the same time, be considerate of new needs that may have arisen, which may necessitate revised expectations for progress and/or diminished availability.
  • Agree on how often, when, and how you will continue to “meet”; develop guidelines for interactions and schedules, taking into consideration any additional time constraints both your students and you may have.
  • Schedule regular check-ins with each student individually.

Maintaining student academic progress

  • Mutually consider how academic progress will be made. How will they work toward academic milestones such as comprehensive exams, proposal development or thesis/dissertation completion? If some aspect of your student's program cannot continue, what other progress can be made?
  • Continue with regularly scheduled supervisory committee meetings as much as possible.
  • For situations in which research plans need to be put on hold – e.g. due to UBC research curtailment, human participant research restrictions, or field research requiring travel – discuss what other activities might be useful to focus on for the time being. A number of possibilities are compiled below.
  • Be clear about expectations, but be understanding of the challenging circumstances many face, including the need to adapt to different ways of working.
  • As much as possible, create opportunities for team members and collaborators to engage with each other – both for research continuity and social reasons. Ideally, journal clubs, writing groups, and other community activities should be maintained.

Revisiting Supervisor/Student Expectations 

Perhaps more now than ever, it is important for graduate supervisors and committees to demonstrate renewed commitment, support, and encouragement to their students’ and their programs.  As noted in a set of principles developed by our colleagues in Medicine, first do no harm.  This is a good time to revisit shared expectations given there may be a slowing of productivity for students, postdocs and faculty due to increased family commitments, added stress, working environments, research curtailment, geographic location, and financial challenges. 

  1. Consider what issues both you and your students are facing and then discuss strategies for continued research and academic progress and ways that you can be flexible in the coming months. Pay particular attention to issues related to equity, and if you sense concerning mental health issues please share resources
  2. Decide on mutually workable timelines for a structured one-to-one meeting and check-in schedules and meetings (both synchronous and non-synchronous), committee meetings as needed, and any research team meetings. Discuss any anticipated  breaks, absences, and vacation times as you set up schedules. 
  3. Discuss and address funding issues related to fellowships, scholarships, research and teaching appointments, and other sources of funding. Provide clarity on what sources are continuing and consider how you and/or your program might replace or supplement any loss of funding sources among your students.  
  4. Address any equipment or internet needs related to ongoing communication, research and academic progress. You can find additional information on awards, loans and tuition on this FAQ on the website. 
  5. Discuss issues related to research curtailment and be creative with alternate processes and procedures.  What adjustments need to be made in terms of research timelines, general approaches to proposed studies, ethics concerns and applications, methods of gathering data, etc. To the most up-to-date information on UBC research responses to COVID-19, visit the VPRI website
  6. Co-create new or alternate projects that might be undertaken in this context that support ongoing academic progress. 

Student wellbeing

  • Working in isolation can be dispiriting. Read and share the many resources that exist for maintaining and promoting a sense of wellbeing in this environment. There are a number on the UBC Student Services website. Encourage your students to access the sources of help listed on this website if they are finding it difficult to cope.
  • Acknowledge the emotional stress everyone is under, but try not to dwell on the crisis and its negative repercussions longer than helpful.
  • Promote the importance of accurate sources of information and keeping the situation in perspective; encourage regular care such as exercise, eating well, (distanced) social interaction, and practices such as mindfulness.
  • Look after yourself!

Student finances

  • This may well be a time of financial strain for your students. As much as possible, you are encouraged to continue funding them if they are supported by your grants. In cases where students are experiencing serious financial issues, emergency funding may be available through Enrolment Services.
  • We are continually seeking the most effective ways to ease the burdens many of you face.  Please be assured that all major University-wide multi-year graduate student scholarships will continue to be paid throughout the eligibility period and that we are addressing the issue of paying graduate research assistants who are abroad. Please visit our COVID-19 FAQ for the most up-to-date information.
  • For the most up-to-date information on funding, please visit the G+PS Funding FAQ.  

When academic/research progress is not possible

  • If at some point you come to the conclusion that any of your students are unable to progress in their research or program at all, it may make sense to consider a leave of absence. Please note, however, that this status comes with restrictions, including funding, access to resources and, for international students, work eligibility.
  • For more information on leaves of absence, visit the G+PS General FAQ.
  • For immigration and work eligibility information, visit the International Student Guide FAQ.

Possible activities for students to support academic progress when research is curtailed

  • Analyzing previously compiled material and data, and designing research approaches.
  • Reading and synthesizing scholarly literature
  • Preparing ethics proposals.
  • Attending and presenting at online journal clubs
  • Writing or revising – manuscripts, thesis chapters, grant applications, review articles.
  • Working on contributions for collaborative publications.
  • Preparing grant/fellowship applications 
  • Preparing research seminars, and/or posters for meetings.
  • Engaging in teaching opportunities.
  • Taking online courses/webinars, including those directed at professional development.

See the G+PS website for numerous virtual professional development opportunities. To stay informed on upcoming online workshops, services, and resources, subscribe to GradUpdate weekly emails or follow us on Twitter @UBCGradSchool.

The following units also have ongoing services: